A lot of people come to me because they want to be more productive. They believe the key to getting more accomplished lies in making better use of their time. When we sit down to look at the calendar, they rattle off all the things they think they should do in a day: rigorous exercise, including cardio and yoga; meditation and writing (writing practice or morning pages); spend time with their mates or their families; volunteer at the school or the church. They need to shop and cook nutritious meals and keep an immaculate house. They also want to lose weight.
They have a dream of a creative project — a novel, a new website, a performance — but can’t see how they can get that on the calendar.
When I listen to their lists and plans, I feel the need to lie down and take a nap.
YOU CANNOT DO EVERYTHING EVERY DAY WITHOUT DRIVING YOURSELF CRAZY.
When your mindfulness practices and self care become items on the to-do list, they no longer support your creative life, but drain it. When you squeeze in meditation and then obsess on your mat about what you’re going to do next, you’re missing the point (not that that has ever happened to me).
Instead of cramming everything into the day, look at the week and think about a larger structure to hold you.
What if did cardio three times a week and yoga on the alternate days? What if instead of forcing yourself to sit meditation when you’re tired, you gave yourself the option of lying down meditation or a guided body scan? Could you park your car a mile from the coffee shop and write or sketch there, using the walk as a way to create space rather than an item on a to-do list?
Speaking of which,
STOP MAKING TO-DO LISTS.
The more you follow a to-do list, the less creative work you will get done. Block out time for work that matters — that photography series you’ve been thinking about, that essay on parenting a special needs child — and fit in the errands and phone calls later. Return emails after lunch. Pick up the loaf of bread on the way to get your child from school.
Learn to discern the immediate from the important. They will still have milk at the grocery store tomorrow.
SCHEDULE HOUSEHOLD AND OTHER MAINTENANCE ONCE OR TWICE A WEEK.
While my Christian friends are in church on Sunday mornings, I am worshipping at Trader Joe’s. My friends know better than to invite me anywhere on Sunday before noon. I do all my shopping for the week, get enough food in the house so that at the end of the long weekdays, I don’t have to think about what’s going on the table.
Maybe you can set aside Wednesday afternoon for errands. Car maintenance, post office, etc. Keep a running list and get those niggling things on the calendar, but do not let them rule your days.
DOING LESS IS DOING MORE
I’ve had to pare down my activity considerably because of my health, and frankly, I’m more productive. Small, reasonable goals work. I make two to four goals for each week and schedule one to two tasks each day. I leave lots of space in between to take a walk, nap, and respond to the inevitable calls from school when my daughter has forgotten her lunch or her English binder.
CREATE MORE SPACE AND GET MORE PLEASURE OUT OF EVERYTHING
If you’re taking a walk and your counting your steps, you’re missing the slow turning of the seasons. If you’re making meditation into an endurance test, you’re not feeling the pleasure and the miracle of breath. On the flip side, if you create enough space in the day to come to your creative work relaxed and open, you remember the reasons you began the work in the first place — you enjoy it.
In the Albert Brooks movie, The Muse, a blocked screenwriter hires a professional muse (played by Sharon Stone) to inspire him. He wants to keep a schedule and get down to work, but she insists on lying around in her pajamas until noon and ordering Chinese food at all hours of the night.
If you want to do important work, you need to give yourself a break, treat yourself gently, and wear pajamas when you can. Order Chinese food and eat chocolate cake.
And remember to ask yourself every day:
WHAT DO I NEED TO DO TO TAKE CARE OF MYSELF?
Do you fall into the trap of feeling you have to do everything every day? Do your good intentions of excellent physical and mental health get in your way of achieving your creative work? Could you give yourself permission to cut back on your to-dos and listen to the deep wisdom of body and mind?